It was only four years ago that New York Jets draft pick Jace Amaro was preparing for his senior football season at MacArthur High School.
A lot has changed in Amaro's life since 2010, when he helped the Brahmas advance to the Class 5A Division II state quarterfinals with his skills as a sure-handed tight end.
"Just don't blink," Amaro said, chuckling. "It goes by quick. Even playing at Mac as a freshman seems like only yesterday, and that was almost seven years ago."
Amaro signed with Texas Tech in February 2011, and played three seasons for the Red Raiders before deciding to turn pro after a record-setting junior year. Selected by the Jets in the second round of the NFL draft in May, Amaro reports to training camp Monday in Cortland, N.Y.
The past two months have been a blur for Amaro, who has trained in Lubbock and San Antonio since the Jets took him with the 49th overall pick in the draft. Amaro got a taste of life in the NFL when he participated in organized workouts and rookie minicamp with the team in May.
"It's really nice up there," Amaro said. "It's a nice atmosphere. What better place to live than New York City? I'm really excited about playing there. Hopefully, that's where I'll stick around for a while."
I caught up with Amaro a few days ago while he was signing autographs at a local H-E-B, and it was good to see that a little fame and fortune haven't changed the young man I wrote about when he was at MacArthur.
After greeting me with a firm handshake and a smile, Amaro took his place at a table in the store and dutifully signed autographs and posed for photos with fans. Some wore Jets jerseys with his number (88) and others wore Jets T-shirts.
Amaro seemed to enjoy the experience of getting some face time with fans.
"I think it's just part of the job," he said. "It's an honor to be able to sign autographs for people. You want to be able to do these things. I feel real good about it and something I've always been proud of. If I'm walking down the street and somebody recognizes me and wants my autograph, I'll never turn anybody down.
"I know some people have done that in the past and I've seen it myself, but people look forward to these types of things. People admire you and respect your game. If it excites them, I want to be out here."
Among other things, Amaro talked about his transition to the pro game and all that entails on and off the field.
"I went through almost 22 practices, or something like that, and I felt good about it," Amaro said. "It's definitely a transition. It just took me a little bit from the playbook standpoint. It's just a little bit different, but toward the end, I felt really comfortable. I felt like I could really fit in here. I'm real excited about the season."
If Amaro can be half as productive as a rookie as he was last season at Tech, the Jets' offense will get a much-needed boost at the tight end position.
Amaro, 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, earned All-America honors after catching 106 passes for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns. His yardage total set an NCAA record for tight ends, and his average of 104 yards receiving a game broke another NCAA mark for tight ends.
While the NFL presents unique physical challenges, the mental side of the game is a critical factor in determining who plays on Sundays.
"You see it in high school, throughout college and even the NFL," Amaro said. "There are guys, especially in college, that can go out there and get by because they have a ton of athleticism. They just don't want to work and do those little things that help you get better. You can't get by on just athletic ability in the NFL. With me, I'm going to follow the routine I've always had.
"I've never been the most athletic guy or the fastest guy, but I've always taken pride in how hard I work and how much preparation I do before the game. You can be as athletic as you want to be, but if you don't know what to do, you're kind of out on a limb. It's 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical."
Born in Plano, Amaro moved to San Antonio with his family when he was 4. The second of three children born to Rosemary and Bob Amaro, Jace developed into one of the best high school athletes in San Antonio history.
Besides being a blue-chip football player, Amaro started on the MacArthur basketball team and was one of the best shot-putters in the state as a senior.
Amaro was part of a football-recruiting class that is arguably one of the best in San Antonio-area history.
Others who signed NCAA letters of intent on that cold Wednesday in February 2011 were quarterback Johnny Manziel (Kerrville Tivy/Texas A&M), running back Malcolm Brown (Steele/Texas), running back Aaron Green (Madison/Nebraska), defensive tackle Ashaad Mabry (MacArthur/Oklahoma State), linebacker Ryan Simmons (Steele/Oklahoma State) and defensive tackle Marquis Anderson (Steele/Oklahoma).
Manziel, of course, went on to win the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman at A&M in 2012 and was drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Browns this year.
"I talked to Johnny about a week ago," Amaro said. "We have the same agent, so we keep in touch. He's doing well. We'll just see how he does during the season. I'm sure some of those other guys may get drafted this upcoming year.
"They're all great character guys. Everybody's kept in contact with each other. I take a lot of pride in being alongside Johnny and Malcolm. It feels really good to be in that group of guys."
I'm sure Manziel and the others share the same high opinion of Amaro.